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Back to the future

Shahar speculates that her material, lithoplast, will be precious in future, even if only for nostalgic value

Textured treasure

Discarded products like plastic bits that can no longer be recycled, by-products from the coal mining and stone masonry industries, fuse together to form a natural man-made material

Malleable marvel

Lithoplast is malleable and can be pressed into shapes by hand, giving it a lot of potential for use in arts and crafts

Wonders from waste

Plastic and other forms of waste are the raw materials that, on the application of heat and pressure, turn into lithoplast

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Lab 28 Mar 2019

Plastics 2.0: Shahar Livne creates a clay-like material from plastic waste

Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Shahar Livne created a clay-like lithoplast using discarded plastic that she thinks would be mined in future. Showcasing the material at this year’s Copper Hewitt Design Triennale themed “Nature”, she not only highlights the aesthetic value in toxic waste, but also offers alternative perspectives when thinking about plastics.

This year, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Cube design museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands, will co-organize the exhibition ‘Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial’. It will feature innovative projects that highlight how designers, engineers, environmentalists, scientists, and other allied fields, are coming together to address environmental and humanitarian issues creatively. The exhibition will feature projects across seven categories – Understand, Simulate, Salvage, Facilitate, Augment, Remediate, and Nurture. For us, one of the highlights of the Salvage category is Shahar Livne’s Metamorphism vessel series.

Back to the future

Shahar speculates that her material, lithoplast, will be precious in future, even if only for nostalgic value

New material from an old problem

Of course, plastic waste is a huge problem and is slowly choking out our planet. But what if we decided to accept our plastic-infested reality, and that this long-lasting waste is not really going away, how differently would we think about it? What would nature do with plastic waste, if left untreated? This is the starting point of Shahar Livne’s clay-like new material which she speculates will become a treasure for the future generations, a resource that they will perhaps even mine.

Textured treasure

Discarded products like plastic bits that can no longer be recycled, by-products from the coal mining and stone masonry industries, fuse together to form a natural man-made material

What if we accept our plastic-infested reality, and that this long-lasting waste is not really going away, how differently would we think about it?

Borrowing processes from nature

To create this material, she began by digging up waste plastic from beaches in the Netherlands and Israel. She layered this plastic with other discarded materials namely minestone and marble dust – by-products from the coal mining and stone masonry industries that are usually discarded.

Then, mimicking natural geological process called metamorphism, she applied heat and pressure to this mixture, altering the composition of the existing materials, and changing its texture, just as it actually happens in nature but over a long period of time.

Malleable marvel

Lithoplast is malleable and can be pressed into shapes by hand, giving it a lot of potential for use in arts and crafts

The resulting material is a malleable, clay-like material that can be pressed into any shape by hand. Using a water jet, she polished its rocky, uneven surface, perhaps akin to how a river creates smooth stones, but over time.

Scientists exploring how human activity impacts the earth’s geology too have observed this phenomenon, calling it a new geological era called the Anthropocene.

In essence, Shahar is simply speeding up the otherwise slow natural processes. Her clay-like material could become a naturally occurring substance in future; in some places, the process has already begun. In some ways, this is an amazing indicator of our planet’s resilience, its ability to adapt, and assimilate waste. Scientists exploring how human activity impacts the earth’s geology too have observed this phenomenon, calling it a new geological era called the Anthropocene.

Wonders from waste

Plastic and other forms of waste are the raw materials that, on the application of heat and pressure, turn into lithoplast

Looking for perspectives

By creating sculptural objects from this lithoplast material for the Triennale, she raises many questions. What is a natural substance? What constitutes as a man-made one? She also challenges the general perception of plastic being a cheap material, and therefore being okay to be wasted.

This attribution of an arts and crafts-related identity thereby adds value to the material.

She also helps us find beauty in something that comes from our most toxic waste, calling for a shift in the way we think of plastics. Looking at it from Shahar’s perspective then, is plastic really all bad? Can nothing good come out of this all-pervading material? And isn’t the way we look at our plastic waste – from the lens of a ‘good or bad’ binary – restrictive?

By fast-forwarding a natural process to give us a sneak peek of what plastics would transform into in future, Shahar gives us a lot to think about in terms of our current unmindful use of the material!

Find out more about Shahar and her research on her website here.